ALFRED – The case that captured international attention with its story of a fitness instructor who ran a one-woman brothel from her Zumba studio in the quaint seaside town of Kennebunk ended Friday with Alexis Wright taken away in handcuffs to begin serving a 10-month jail sentence.

The case against Wright began on Valentine’s Day 2012 with a police raid at her studio and business office. It put communities on edge late last year as police charged wave after wave of “johns” from Wright’s client list of more than 140 names. And it closed in York County Superior Court on Friday with Wright speaking publicly for the first time about how it happened.

Wright, 30, told the judge at her sentencing hearing that she was manipulated by an older man, her business partner, Mark Strong Sr., 57.

“When I heard the ridiculous statements about this being an affair and a friendship, I felt nauseated,” Wright said.

Strong, who was convicted in March of promoting the prostitution business, had claimed that Wright ran the business while he assisted her out of “love” and a desire to protect her.

In addition to serving the time in jail, Wright must pay more than $58,000 in fines and restitution, including more than $40,000 for theft of welfare benefits and more than $16,000 in taxes for unreported income.

Wright said Strong, whom she met when she was an exotic dancer in 2003, pushed her into prostitution.

“These actions were not taken because I wanted to,” Wright said. “I did not feel like I was in a situation where I was able to choose.”

She glanced back at her husband, Jason Trowbridge, when she stood before the judge and struggled at times to keep tears in check as she spoke.

After police raided Wright’s studio in February 2012 and Strong was arrested in July 2012 on an initial charge of promoting prostitution, Wright said, “I felt a relief that the whole thing would go away.”

At the end of the nearly hourlong hearing, Justice Nancy Mills accepted the sentence that Wright and prosecutors had agreed to and ordered her taken into custody to begin serving her time in the York County Jail.

Wright, of Wells, pleaded guilty on March 29 to 20 misdemeanors, avoiding a trial that her attorney, Sarah Churchill, estimated would have lasted six weeks and been a media “spectacle.”

Wright entered the courtroom about 8:30 a.m. Friday and sat down alone as Churchill and prosecutors met with the judge behind closed doors. Dressed in a gray skirt and a matching fitted jacket, she showed little expression at first, as she went to her seat and then sat silently, leafing through papers until the attorneys returned.

Later, she cried when the judge denied her request to serve her sentence in the Cumberland County Jail in Portland so she could have easier access for visits from her 8-year-old son.

Wright was taken from the courtroom, followed by a sheriff’s deputy, then to the York County Jail.

In return for her guilty plea, prosecutors dropped 86 of the 106 counts against Wright and reduced the three most serious charges — for tax and state welfare violations — from felonies to misdemeanors.

She was accused of conspiring with Strong, of Thomaston, to run the prostitution business from the Zumba studio, keeping extensive records and video recordings of her sex acts with customers.

Police and prosecutors have said that Wright had the names of more than 140 clients in her ledger and took in at least $150,000 from the business from July 2010 to February 2012.

So far, 68 people have been charged with engaging Wright for prostitution. Many of them have pleaded guilty. Kennebunk police have said they are investigating another 40 suspects before deciding whether to charge them this summer.

Strong was convicted on 13 misdemeanors: 12 counts of promotion of prostitution and one count of conspiracy with Wright.

Mills sentenced Strong to serve 20 days in jail and pay a $3,000 fine. Strong was released after serving 15 days, getting credit for good behavior.

Evidence that was presented at Strong’s trial would have been damning for Wright. One video played for the jury shows her having sex with a man and then collecting a stack of cash from him.

Leading up to Friday’s sentencing, Churchill filed written arguments with the court explaining some of the factors that went into Wright’s plea agreement with prosecutors.

Churchill wrote that Wright had been manipulated by Strong, a licensed private investigator, into believing she was a secret operative working for the state “to investigate all manner of sexual deviants.”

“At first blush, this seems too farfetched for anyone to believe. Nevertheless, text messages between Ms. Wright and Mark Strong Sr. bear it out,” Churchill said in the eight-page memorandum.

She wrote that Wright was sexually abused by her father, Randy Wright, for years. Her father is a registered sex offender, convicted in federal court of possession of child pornography, though not in connection with abuse of his daughter.

Churchill added in court Friday that when Wright was about 8 or 9 years old, her parents separated and she moved with her mother from Maine to California.

“Her father drove across country and kidnapped her and brought her back to Maine,” Churchill said. Wright was returned to her mother after law enforcement was contacted, but the kidnapping had a lasting traumatic effect on Wright.

Strong, a successful businessman, played a fatherly role for Wright, saying in text messages that she was like the daughter he never had, Churchill wrote in her memorandum.

“She meets an older man and over a period of years is taken in by him first as a model, then as part of his private investigation firm and is told a story, which she all too readily believes, about how she is an operative working for the state to investigate all manner of sexual deviants,” Churchill wrote, arguing that Strong had psychological control of Wright.

Wright’s sentence calls for a one-year suspended jail term to be served after her release. She will be on administrative supervision as she begins restitution on a payment plan.

The lead prosecutor in the case, Deputy District Attorney Justina McGettigan, said in her nine-page sentencing argument that the sentence sought for Wright is greater than Strong’s sentence because Wright was charged with financial crimes while Strong was not.

Mills said the “driving force” behind Wright’s sentence was the charge of theft by deception for fraudulently receiving state benefits while making cash from her prostitution business.

Mills said she accepted the recommended sentence because she considered it fair.

“The state has full restitution, and the defendant has received an absence of all felony convictions,” she said.

Mills closed by telling Wright, “I wish you success.” She ordered Wright to have “no contact whatsoever” with Strong.

Outside the courthouse after the sentencing, McGettigan was asked about Wright’s claim that she was manipulated. McGettigan said Wright ultimately accepted responsibility for her actions.

“The evidence we had, she was an active participant,” McGettigan said. “We believe she willingly engaged in her behavior.”

Wright’s husband, whom she married last year, left without speaking to the media, but he gave Churchill a written statement to hand out.

“I stood by my wife when I first discovered her nightmare and I continue to stand by her today,” Trowbridge said in the three-page statement. “The fact that I chose to marry her after my learning of her situation isn’t simply based on love. It is a testament to the true person she is and the real person I know.”

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:

[email protected]

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